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US calls on Iran to halt support for ‘destabilizing forces’

Iran and US have been long-standing enemies. The newly re-elected Iran President faces challenge from US President Donald Trump, who is currently visiting Iran’s bitter regional rival Saudi Arabia, and has threatened to tear up the nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions.

world Updated: May 21, 2017 22:14 IST
Agencies
Newly re-elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani gestures during a televised speech in the capital Tehran on May 20.
Newly re-elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani gestures during a televised speech in the capital Tehran on May 20.(AFP Photo)

The United States on Saturday said it hoped Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s newly re-elected president, will halt his country’s support for “destabilizing forces”, end ballistic missile tests and carry out democratic reforms during his second term.

“We hope that if Rouhani wanted to change Iran’s relationship with the rest of the world, those are the things he could do,” secretary of state Rex Tillerson said in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where he was accompanying President Donald Trump.

Rouhani, a cleric who, with foreign minister Javad Zarif broke the taboo of holding direct talks with the United States and reached an international deal in 2015 to curb Iran’s nuclear program in return for relief from economic sanctions, won 57 percent of the vote in Friday’s election.

He defeated Ebrahim Raisi, a hardline cleric and acolyte of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who holds ultimate power in Iran’s complex, hybrid system of theocratic and republican elements.

Trump’s administration is likely to keep putting pressure on Iran over its weapons programs, as well as what it sees as Tehran’s efforts to destabilize the Middle East, former US officials and analysts said.

Supporters of Iranian president Hassan Rouhani gather as they celebrate his victory in the presidential election in Tehran. (REUTERS)

Jubilant scenes

In Tehran and across Iran, there were jubilant scenes as thousands of Rouhani supporters took to the streets, singing and dancing.

Supporters of Iran's President Hassan Rouhani celebrate his victory in the presidential elections, in Tehran. (REUTERS)

They wore the purple colours of Rouhani’s campaign, as well as green to signify the reformist protests that were brutally put down in 2009.

Police tried to disperse people in central Vali Asr Square, saying they did not have a permit to assemble, but the crowd was too large to manage.

“We’ve achieved what I wanted, which was not Mr Rouhani himself, but the path of reform, freedom and progress,” said Pegah, a 25-year-old in the crowd.

A massive 73-percent turnout forced election officials to extend voting by several hours on Friday.

Raisi, 56, had cast himself as a defender of the poor and called for a tougher line with the West, but his revolutionary rhetoric and promise of increased handouts gained limited traction.

The result “shows that Iranian people no longer believe in economic populism and radical change,” said Ali Vaez, Iran analyst for the International Crisis Group think tank.

Putin, Assad congratulate

Russia, which fights alongside Iran in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, was among the first to congratulate Rouhani.

Supporters of newly re-elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani take to the streets to celebrate his victory in downtown Tehran on May 20. (AFP Photo)

President Vladimir Putin sent a telegram confirming “his readiness to continue active joint work... in line with maintaining stability and security in the Middle East and the world,” the Kremlin said.

Assad also praised Rouhani for earning “the trust (of) the Iranian people”.

European and Asian officials welcomed Rouhani’s re-election, which creates extra space for business opportunities after the nuclear deal lifted global sanctions in exchange for curbs to Iran’s atomic programme.

“A lot of investors I hadn’t heard from for three months were suddenly phoning me this morning. Some are already in the process of booking their tickets,” said Farid Dehdilani, international adviser for the Iranian Privatisation Organisation.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini tweeted her vow to work for greater “engagement, regional peace... (and the) expectations of people in Iran”.

Britain and France also congratulated Rouhani, praising the high turnout but also urging the president to continue his support for the nuclear deal.

‘Era of extremism over’

Rouhani put civil liberties at the heart of his campaign, and he pointedly thanked reformist former president Mohammed Khatami, banned from appearing in the media since the 2009 protests, in his acceptance speech.

A woman holds a poster of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during a campaign rally in Tehran on May 17, 2017. (Reuters)

Rouhani also pushed boundaries over the past fortnight with his veiled criticism of the country’s conservative-dominated judiciary and security services, telling supporters: “We’ve entered this election to tell those practising violence and extremism that your era is over.”

But the economy remains Rouhani’s top priority.

“Dr Rouhani will more aggressively pursue his economic agenda -- investing in factories, production and absorbing foreign capital,” said Dehdilani.

Rouhani tamed inflation and the nuclear deal led to a rebound in oil revenues, but the wider economy is stagnant, with unemployment running at 12.5 percent overall, and almost 30 percent among young people.

“Not everyone who voted for Rouhani thought his record was excellent, but the majority decided his competitor would be even worse,” said Tehran University political professor Foad Izadi.